the excavation of gil orlovitz

Recently I received the good news that a new volume of buried writer Gil Orlovitz’s poetry and prose is soon to be published. I’ve previously bemoaned Orlovitz’s fate on this site, as well as posting, at the time, the only known review of his experimental novel Ice Never F to be found on the internet. Now, champion of forgotten poets Rick Schober will be publishing a collection of Orlovitz’s early stories, poems, and essays through his one-man operation, Tough Poets Press. Rick needs our help, though! He’s started a Kickstarter campaign to cover the initial costs associated with getting this important anthology out into the world. Rick has done these campaigns before and he knows what he’s doing. All donations go straight into production. Take a look, read Rick’s biography of Orlovitz, and if you feel so inclined please give what you can! The book will be published June 7, 2018, the 100th anniversary of Orlovitz’s birth.

2017 in books and music

Snow Bunting at North Point State Park, Maryland, USA. © 2016 S. D. Stewart

Snow Bunting at North Point State Park, Maryland, USA. © 2016 S. D. Stewart

Following surgery to repair a pelvic fracture in January I was unable to put weight on my left leg for three months. One might think this would have resulted in a higher read count than usual for the year, but in fact my total fell short of my average over the past few years. Part of this was actually due to a concerted effort to slow down and read more leisurely. However, another reason was that once I was fully mobile I simply did not want to sit around reading, so I ended up reading much less in the second half of the year, though toward the end as bird migration tapered off and the weather grew colder my pace did pick up again.

Below is the list of books I assigned 5-star ratings on Goodreads in 2017. A number of books I rated 4 stars probably deserve a place here, too, but I had to draw the line somewhere. In the 4-star category I will mention the two Julien Gracq novels I read as being particularly noteworthy (The Castle of Argol and The Opposing Shore). Regrettably I believe both of these are out of print in English translation. However, I’m happy to report that NYRB has just reissued Gracq’s moodily atmospheric novel A Balcony in the Forest, so there’s hope now for future republication of his singular work in English.

In general this year was a good one for reissues of some of my favorite buried writers. Mid-20th century British avant-garde women writers fared especially well in 2017. Much of Leonora Carrington’s writing finally came back into print as part of the centennial celebration of her birth year, including short fiction collections in both U.S. and British editions, as well as her harrowing memoir Down Below and her children’s book The Milk of Dreams. A biography by Joanna Moorhead also appeared in the spring.

A 50th anniversary edition of Anna Kavan’s novel Ice came out from Penguin in the U.S. this fall. As the 50th anniverary of Kavan’s death approaches there has been a small surge of interest around her work. For example, the journal Women: A Cultural Review devotes its entire current issue to exploring various themes in Kavan’s work. Hopefully this new scholarship will help prompt Peter Owen to finally reprint Kavan’s mysterious novel Eagles’ Nest and the kaleidoscopic short fiction collection  A Bright Green Field, both of which have inexplicably been languishing out of print for years. (For more on Anna Kavan visit the House of Sleep).

Finally, the brief but bright shooting star of Ann Quin’s literary career received a much-deserved coda when the subscription-based UK publisher And Other Stories released a collection of her unpublished stories and fragments, which includes the powerful (though incomplete) manuscript The Unmapped Country. This fragment had previously appeared in shorter form in the long out-of-print Beyond the Words anthology. (Note that non-subscribers will need to wait until mid-January 2018 for the official publication of this volume). While the publication of this book is a boon for Quin fans, it’s probably not the best place to start with her writing. In fact, her four published novels are all quite different, so it’s tough to suggest a starting point with Quin. On an initial recommendation, I began with Tripticks and actually did not care for it but still sensed there was something drawing me to Quin. I found that in Passages, which I consider to be her masterwork. Three comes in second place, followed by her debut, Berg. Thankfully, all of Quin’s novels remain in print courtesy of Dalkey Archive Press, bless their dedicated hearts.

I will just mention one other reissue of note, tangential to Ann Quin. In April, the micro press Verbivoracious Press (VP) published the first volume of an omnibus edition of Alan Burns’ novels. Burns was part of a loosely connected band of British avant-garde writers in the 1960s that included Ann Quin, as well as B.S. Johnson, Eva Figes, Rayner Heppenstall, and others. His novel Europe After the Rain draws interesting parallels to Kavan’s Ice and the relationship between the two novels is investigated in an article by Leigh Wilson in the previously mentioned issue of Women: A Cultural Review. In the past, VP, which specializes in reprinting ‘exploratory literature from Europe and beyond,’ also reissued a volume collecting two of Heppenstall’s novels (review), and many other experimental gems, including much of Christine Brooke-Rose‘s output.

2017 5-star books (in order read):

Being Upright: Zen Meditation and the Bodhisattva Precepts / Reb Anderson
The Passion of New Eve / Angela Carter (Review)
The Poor Mouth / Flann O’Brien (Review)
The Plains / Gerald Murnane (Review)
The Complete Stories of Leonora Carrington (Review)
When the Time Comes / Maurice Blanchot (Review)
Snow Part / Paul Celan (Review)
S.S. Proleterka / Fleur Jaeggy (Review)
The Way of Chuang Tzu / Thomas Merton (Review)
The Rings of Saturn / W. G. Sebald (Review)
Alejandra Pizarnik: A Profile / Alejandra Pizarnik (Review)
Old Rendering Plant / Wolfgang Hilbig (Review)

Full list of books read in 2017 can be found here.

2017 soundtrack:

Barn Owl (and solo work by Jon Porras and Evan Caminiti)
Belgrado
Drab Majesty
Emma Ruth Rundle
Gate
Goat
Grails
Grouper
ISIS
Keluar
Kodiak
Marriages
Nadja
Neurosis
Portion Control
Scorn
Tim Hecker
Yellow Swans
…and too much post-punk to list (mostly by way of this finding aid)

old rendering plant by wolfgang hilbig

New review of this brilliant, tangled web of words posted on the Book Reviews tab. For more information on the book, visit Two Lines Press.

luxuriant leprosy of the vegetable kingdom

Soon began the glorious days of autumn particularly unmistakable in the melancholy curve that the sun, already noticeable lower over the horizon, drew across the sky in whose calm expanses, as though constantly swept by a wonderfully pure wind, its golden trace seemed to linger like a magnificent ship’s wake, and hardly had it turned its course toward the horizon than the moon, as though suspended to the beam of a celestial balance, appeared against the blue light of day with the ghostly glow of an unexpected star, whose malignant influence would now, of itself alone, explain the sudden, strange, and half-metallic alterations of the leaves of the forest whose surprising red and yellow brilliance burst out everywhere with the irrepressible vigour, the fulminating contagion of a luxuriant leprosy of the vegetable kingdom.

Julien Gracq, The Castle of Argol (a most curious book, and one filled with what would become Gracq’s signature lush descriptions of Nature as a possibly supernatural force. In particular he seems to have a thing for forests…reading his forested prose turns hypnotic after a time. See also: A Balcony in the Forest.)

[Review here.]

virginia woolf’s summer madness

The only thing in this world is music–music and books and one or two pictures. I am going to found a colony where there shall be no marrying–unless you happen to fall in love with a symphony of Beethoven–no human element at all, except what comes through Art–nothing but ideal peace and endless meditation. The whole of human beings grows too complicated, my only wonder is that we don’t fill more madhouses: the insane view of life has much to be said for it–perhaps its the sane one after all: and we, the sad sober respectable citizens really rave every moment of our lives and deserve to be shut up perpetually. My spring melancholy is developing these hot days into summer madness.

Source: The Letters of Virginia Woolf Volume 1: 1888-1912 (from a letter dated April 23, 1901 to Emma Vaughan)

(thanks: lost fun zone)

‘the source we have forgotten’

The road. When I could drive no more for weariness I huddled in the back of the car and uneasily dreamed for a few hours but I did not do that often, I was in a frenzy that precluded rest. I felt that I was in a great hurry but I did not know I was speeding toward the very enigma I had left behind–the dark room, the mirror, the woman. I did not know this destination exercised a magnetic attraction on me. I did not know I could not stop.

In the mornings, the ground was white with hoar frost for it was now late October and a crimson sun rose over plains that rolled as far as the pale hem of the sky. There were no trees. The radio in the car fed me an aural pabulum of cheapjack heartbreak; this nasal country music was interspersed with voices that sang the praises of innumerable articles of consumption and sputtered out frequent news bulletins. The Harlem Wall grew longer, taller, thicker; the National Guard was on permanent call. Riots, incendiarism. I could not have picked a worse time for my trip. Only fatality could have possessed me to go high-tailing off in such troubled times, fatality and the unknowable impulsion of the destination ahead of me, a destination of which I was entirely ignorant although it had chosen me long ago for our destinations choose us, choose us before we are born.

And exercise a magnetic attraction upon us, drawing us inexorably toward the source we have forgotten. Descend lower, descend the diminishing spirals of being that restore us to our source. Descend lower; while the world, in time, goes forward and so presents us with the illusion of motion, though all our lives we move through curvilinear galleries of the brain towards the core of the labyrinth within us.

—Angela Carter, The Passion of New Eve

2016: my reading crisis year

This year I suffered a crisis of faith in reading fiction. It began early this summer and lasted for several months. At its deepest point I thought I might not ever read another novel. Its origins lay in a complex amalgamation of factors, including a long run of uninspiring reads, the completion of the final stages of a three-year writing project, and a profound deepening of my Zen Buddhist practice. The details of how these factors intersected are of a personal nature that I won’t explore here. Ultimately, however, I weathered this crisis and am pleased to report that I returned to fiction this autumn, albeit with a radically altered view of how I approach my reading and what I hope to extract from it. Perhaps I will write more about these changes in the future, but for now here are the highlights from my reading year, most of them from before the crisis hit. Most links are to my Goodreads reviews, but in cases where I didn’t write a review I’ve provided a publisher link when available.

I enjoyed spending more time with the British avant-gardists of the 1960s, including B.S. Johnson (Travelling People), Ann Quin (completing my reading of her slim output with Berg & Three), Alan Burns (Europe After the Rain & Dreamerika!), Rayner Heppenstall (The Greater Infortune / The Connecting Door), and those others included in the excellent anthology Beyond the Words.

The lost American Modernist Margery Latimer captured my attention, although after reading most of her published output, I found that We Are Incredible was the only work of hers to linger long with me.

Robert Coover’s The Origin of the Brunists was an expected winner in the spring. I look forward to moving on to the sequel The Brunist Day of Wrath, of which I’ve already read a tantalizing excerpt in Conjunctions (#60) a couple of years back.

At the end of the summer I confronted my crisis head-on and approached fiction again through the lens of some old favorites, namely Thomas Bernhard and Marguerite Duras. It was a bittersweet experience with Bernhard, as I was closing out his novels with his final opus, Extinction, and I had a mixed reaction, as I discuss in my review. With Duras, I discovered a new favorite of hers in Summer Rain, which regrettably appears to be out of print, though easy enough to find on the used market (or through interlibrary loan).

But it was Samuel Delany’s Dhalgren that truly immersed me in the wonders of fiction again. This one had been on my to-read list for several years, but its length led me to keep putting it off. I knew, though, that the frenetic pace of my reading had contributed to my crisis and I suspected that a long book might force me to slow down and allow proper digestion to take place. My hunch was correct, for Delany’s storytelling, while compelling and highly readable, demanded the downshift in pace that I so desperately needed to make. Review here.

Other favorites from the year:

Kassandra and the Wolf by Margarita Karapanou – defies description.

Tales of Galicia by Andrzej Stasiuk

The Weight of Things by Marianne Fritz – one of those books whose word count belies its depth. Plot materializes like a squid undulating in its own inky emissions.

The Quest for Christa T. by Christa Wolf – “The paths we really took are overlaid with paths we did not take. I can now hear words that we never spoke. Now I can see her as she was, Christa T., when no witnesses were present. Could it be possible? –The years that re-ascend are no longer the years they were. Light and shadow fall once more over our field of vision: but the field is ready. Should that not amaze us?” (p. 23)

My reading goal for 2017 is to maintain a more leisurely pace—no more gobbling down prose like a pig at the trough. I want to allow literature to seep into my consciousness and take root instead of finishing with restless haste before moving immediately onto the next book. I see more long books in my future, where there is space to lie down and rest awhile, where the last page doesn’t come too soon, leading me to veer off in yet another direction before first taking stock and reorienting myself.

150 years of alice’s adventures

Illustration remix by Anna Vignet.

Illustration remix by Anna Vignet from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, an online annotated edition featuring twelve Lewis Carroll scholars taking one chapter each, plus new artwork and remixes from classic 1865 and 1905 illustrations. A joint project from The Public Domain Review and Medium, on the occasion of the story’s 150th anniversary.

‘he walked arm in arm with his shadow’ (éric chevillard)

[note: cursory statistical analysis reveals this blog would receive heightened traffic if it contained more practical advice on ‘all weather bike commuting,’ but instead it chiefly contains impractical, infrequent, and largely unread text such as the following…]

aural darkness in june. a way to refuse the heat. alice. another merciful release. a spiral of silence. another five minutes in this chair. jabès with his name in his pain but his pain with no name. writing about the book and its hold over us. the power of the word. meanwhile duras is looking at the time. ‘it was ten o’clock. in the evening. it was summer.’ and what could maria call the time opening ahead of her…’this incandescence, this bursting of a love at last without object.’

been here too long. here early / leave late / write in boxes / move on wheels back uphill. two legs, four legs, crossing thresholds over and over. sidewalks of daily desolation. tedium in quin’s ‘city where every street declares its defeat.’ consider bernhard and his ‘born barricade fanatics’the shared ‘desire to barricade ourselves from the world.’

but then there is jabès in unwilling exile from his beloved desert. everyone in some form of exilemental, physical, spiritual—feeling incapable of return. like robin about whom the baron thinks ‘there was in her every movement a slight drag, as if the past were a web about her, as there is a web of time about a very old building.’ and yet nora saying ‘robin can go anywhere, do anything, because she forgets, and i nowhere because i remember.’ because what bliss it would be to forget, right, to not always be dragging that chain of keyless padlocks behind. two (mis?)interpretations of another’s experience. dangers of outside looking in. but what of robin. what of robin. on the floor barking like a dog. a shattered mirror. surrendered to expectations. a final transition to conditioned response. or the ultimate shedding of humanity’s heavy carapace.

coleman dowell, from island people

You drive, walk, eat, look at television, read, and all the while, beyond you and the cozy circle created by your lady around herself and you, like the natural emanations of stars, other lives circle yours, seeds still winged and wind-borne, looking for sympathetic soil. You feel the juices and solids of your body in attempted rearrangement, or, more disturbing, making an effort to create a stillness that approximates death, beyond which the body does become soil, receptive to all wind-borne seeds. In a not especially prolonged stillness, as though no chances could be taken that you might decide to become perpetual motion, words fall out of the air, a random fall from which you might be tempted to make selection, and as you do not move, cannot, a string of words falls onto you, and from you, onto the paper: winter rye greening up, smoothing the old brown earth with a fine new plane: Carpenter Rye, neighbor.

–Coleman Dowell, Island People

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